For technical documentation, it makes sense to use professional translators, and indeed specialist technical translators. The problem: the professional title of translator is not protected. And there are many different career paths leading into this profession: university studies, voluntary work, lateral entry from another career path – a graduate technical translator is not necessarily better suited than an engineer who became a translator through lateral entry.
Translation agencies can also easily claim that they can also handle technical translations. It is therefore a good idea to ask more specific questions about whether and how the translation agency demonstrably ensures the suitability and quality of their native speaker specialist translators.
Who is better suited to produce specialist translations of your technical documentation? A technical editor with a broad knowledge of a variety of industries or an engineer with an in-depth specialisation in your particular field? A linguist specialising in technical subjects? Could it be a technician who has completed further studies in translation? Or could a tech-savvy copywriter even be the ideal translator for your project?
To a greater or lesser degree, all of them could be suitable to carry out technical translations of your content. The more details your briefing about the relevant project for the translation agency contains, the better placed you will be to find the ideal translator!
It’s logical, too: the translation agency will pay attention to strict terminological consistency. And it will be as automated as possible using your existing glossary or one that has been newly created for your purposes. Ideally, your glossary should include all of the technical terms within your desired translation, including a description or definition, rules governing usage and also forbidden terms which must not be used. You can either maintain the glossary yourself or entrust this task to the terminology management team at your translation agency – this service costs money but will save you time and money in the long run. A well-maintained glossary is worth its weight in gold for keeping technical translations consistent. It’s worth comparing the details of the quotation.
Another tip: You should be aware that some technical translation agencies can be reluctant to return your glossary to you if you want to take it with you when switching to another service provider. However, the ownership rights do actually belong to you and/or your company.
Common error: It feels as though the best showpiece or material was only created recently and your experience with it was the very best. But in actual fact, it is already outdated. With the advent of new technologies and changes to languages, technical terms have already changed – the world is simply spinning faster than it used to.
Take a look at what you are sending your translation agency as reference material for your technical communications. If these texts need to be revised in various places, there is a danger that an undesirable imitation effect may be found in the translated document. A professional translation therefore starts with a good briefing and up-to-date reference material.
If you’ve mastered the rules, sometimes you can break them – if necessary. In fact, consistency is the ultimate goal of technical communication. But increasingly, “hard” technical documentation is blended with “soft” user information for the end consumer. Documentation is not only required to be unambiguous, it must also represent the brand. Many companies want a specific tone of voice to be reflected in their instruction manuals, online assistance and tutorials too.
Unambiguous terminology and synonymous wordings come together here. In this case, solutions and compromises must be found: which term can be used where and how does this work in other languages? You can establish an appropriate rule for professional translation in advance in collaboration with your translation agency.
Machine translation is reputed to be better than human translation, particularly for technical documentation. In machine translation, no inadvertent mistakes such as typos are made, measurements are correctly converted and the machine doesn’t forget anything, not even the most minor points. For an error-free text, a correction stage is also required, i.e. post editing is carried out by a human (with technical knowledge).
The combination of both translation types can be unbeatable. However, in many cases, human translation can be the more intelligent solution. It always depends on the specific text type and its specifications. You should allow the translation agency to test out which translation solution is right for your texts. For various text types, this might involve different methods. Making a smart choice can save time and money.
The volume of technical documentation is growing, both with regard to the (required) media and the languages required. Although, or in fact specifically because they are intended to make things as easy as possible for users, technical texts are tricky and challenging to produce.
Professional documentation has to follow a number of rules and must fulfil legal specifications, guidelines and standards. As a rule, technical communication forms part of product safety and must increasingly master the balancing act with promotional product information, including user manuals. For technical translations, quality requirements are extremely high. This means that translations should only ever be produced by qualified translators – more specifically, by experienced industry or specialist translators who are native speakers.
Ideally, the task of verifying who is the right translator for the respective text type or technical product should be entrusted to a certified translation agency. Using machine translation can be a smart choice, but this is not always the case – this too should be thoroughly tested out by the service provider in advance.